Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pumping Up the Pressure

In 2004 a study into the Yerevan Water Company found that the International Operator for the World Bank financed Municipal Development Project was abusing the Yerevan water system by pumping up the pressure in the distribution pipeline.

It started in 2002, when the Yerevan Water & Sewerage Company introduced a blanket system of water meters for Yerevan’s domestic consumers, who were subsequently required to pay for the metered water they used, rather than a fixed monthly sum. As a result, consumers discontinued their normal practice of leaving their taps open, fearful that their monthly water account would become excessive. In that way, the flow of water was restricted and the water pressure in the distribution pipeline system increased. By 2004 the pressure had increased by a factor of three, major pipeline failures had increased to four times more than in 2001, and ever-increasing amounts of water spewed out of the ailing distribution pipeline system.

The water company explained that the increased pressure would enable them to eliminate the booster pumps, which were old and expensive to operate; and that would provide important cost reductions. The plan, however was to make a case that the distribution pipeline system was no longer serviceable and that further loans of more than $400 million would be needed for it to be replaced.

Yerevan’s distribution pipeline system is indeed old; the large diameter steel pipes are in various states of disrepair and they will not tolerate a three-fold pressure increase. The water company management was fully aware of this, as were the Armenian water authorities, and so was the World Bank.

Booster Pumps are an integral part of Yerevan’s water distribution system; they are located near to high-rise apartment buildings to deliver water to residents living on the upper floors. The Booster Pumps also allow the pressure in the large diameter pipework distribution system to be maintained at the low level of two atmospheres – specifically to minimise the incidents of pipeline failures.

The findings of the study were discussed and eventually the newly appointed Head of the State Water Committee agreed that the water pressure in the distribution pipeline should be returned to its design level and that Yerevan’s system of 800 Booster Pumps should be upgraded to operate efficiently.

A local fund developed a project to replace the entire system of old, inefficient pumps with new, reliable and efficient pumps. The Head of the State Water Committee agreed that grant funding would be beneficial, especially as donor organizations had expressed an interest to finance the project. A pilot project was approved and three new booster pumps were produced and installed. The pilot project proved that efficient booster pumps would provide ‘Round-the-Clock’ water more cheaply and reliably than the original pumps that operated for four hours each day.

In January 2007, the Yerevan water company announced that it would be replacing 500 old booster pumps with new, reliable, efficient booster pumps. It is however interesting that the company appears not to want to take advantage of the opportunity to use grant funding for the project, which would help to reduce the financial burden on Yerevan’s water consumers, who are continually being asked to pay more for their water – without reason.

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